SMALL BOAT CRUISE: Moosehead Lake, Maine
Small Craft Advisor|January - February 2021
There’s adventure in leaving a place you know for a place you don’t know.
Ida Little

One summer while sitting on the porch at Cape Cod looking at our Maine Gazeteer for a lake to explore, we noticed Moosehead Lake, which turned out to be the largest in New England, stretching about 40 miles north-south, and about 10 miles wide. There’s enough expanse for steady wind and over 400 miles of shore and islands to make sailing and exploring interesting. A big plus is Lily Bay State Park along the western shore of the lake that offers two launch ramps, hot showers, and campsites with their own beach.

We made reservations in May to camp in August, knowing the sites would book up fast. Heading north on the Maine Turnpike in pouring rain, we were assured by the weather report that the sun would be out soon. And it was….for about an hour. By the time we neared Moosehead, the forecast was for four days of solid rain. We made a 180 and headed back home.

“A wall is just an opportunity to change direction,” Garrison Keillor once said. Because of this particular about-turn, we learned that if we camped after Labor Day, no reservations are required. This suited us better since it meant we had the flexibility of choosing our timing by the weather rather than by reservation.

Later in September when the forecast looked good, we headed north. After seven hours driving along the coast of Maine and then inland and north, we topped a rise overlooking Moosehead Lake and had to pull over. Both of us were stunned at the panorama of a long blue lake embraced by forested mountains. We rolled down the windows, breathed in the piney air and listened to…quiet.

It’s one thing to scope out a place on maps and in photos, and very much another to be in that place.

Merely driving in to Lily Bay State Park is a treat. A small road follows the shore of the lake, then climbs high enough for sweeping views to the west and north. When we arrive at the entrance there’s nobody there but a sign says pick a site and register in the morning.

After checking out the two camp areas we choose the Dunn Point campsites. From the site we choose on a high knoll, a path leads down to the lake and a small gravelly sand beach. We get the camper set up and the canoe unloaded. Though there is no electric power at any of the sites, we’re fine with a solar panel and batteries.

The following morning we lift the canoe onto portable wheels, tie a line from the canoe to the car hitch, and tow the canoe to the nearest park launch ramp. (There are also docks available here for campers’ use). We carry the canoe down to the water and load it with life jackets, paddles, and sailing rig, then ferry the car to camp and walk back to the ramp. Since there is no wind we paddle along the shore to our campsite beach.

A couple days later we get an 8-knot breeze out of the southwest, which makes for a broad reach northward from camp. I am knee-deep in Moosehead Lake, pulling on the canoe, when Michael reminds me, “Keep an eye on the weather. When the wind blows up it can get very nasty out there.” I give him a look. He raises his eyebrows and stares back. I know he isn’t worried. He’s repeating what the rangers keep warning us about. We’ve had enough beautiful days gone bad to know the warning can be true. But if we stayed safely on shore whence would come our joy?

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